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Clinical Pharmacology Bulletin

Department of Clinical Pharmacology,Christchurch Hospital, Private Bag 4710, Christchurch

Drug Information Service


Drug Utilisation Review

Phone: 80900
Phone: 89971

Fax: 80902
Fax: 81003

October 2006 No. 011/06

Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding


Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal mucosal
membranes causing sneezing, rhinorrhea, itchy eyes and nose,
and nasal congestion. People with seasonal rhinitis ("hay fever")
exhibit symptoms at specific times during the year (usually spring
and summer), while those with perennial rhinitis have symptoms
all year. Tree, grass and weed pollens are the usual seasonal
allergens. Perennial allergens include house dust mites, indoor
moulds, animal hair and occupational allergens.
Allergic rhinitis affects approximately one-third of women of
childbearing age. Drug treatment may be needed for symptoms
during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding. Pre-existing rhinitis may
worsen, improve, or remain unchanged during pregnancy. In
addition, pregnancy-induced vasomotor changes may result in
increased nasal congestion.

Ideally all drug therapy should be avoided during pregnancy


and/or breastfeeding, especially in the first trimester. However,
treatment can sometimes not be avoided. Treatment choice
usually depends upon the predominant symptoms, with topical
agents considered first-line as these minimise systemic exposure.
Important considerations regarding treatment:
Avoid / minimise precipitating allergens, if known or possible.
Assess risk and benefits of treatment. Avoid all unnecessary
drug treatment especially in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Any medication used during pregnancy or breastfeeding should
be at the lowest effective dose for the shortest time necessary.
Dose after a feed to minimise infant exposure in breastfeeding.

First-line therapy
Intranasal corticosteroids eg. beclomethasone, fluticasone, budesonide, triamcinolone
These are particularly useful for nasal congestion. While studies of intranasal use are limited, systemic use does not appear to pose
significant risk. Topical use should be safer since absorption is less in comparison. Similarly, untoward effects on a breastfed infant
are not expected. There is likely to be little difference in efficacy between the various intranasal corticosteroids. Beclomethasone has
been in use longer, thus having a greater amount of evidence of safety, but use of fluticasone, budesonide or triamcinolone are also
reasonable.
Oral first-generation antihistamines eg. promethazine, dexchlorpheniramine
These are considered safe to use in pregnancy and breastfeeding. However sedating effects may not be tolerated. Do not use after 36
weeks gestation of pregnancy due to risks of neonatal CNS & respiratory depression. Monitor breastfed infants for signs of sedation or
irritability as a precaution, and dosing after a feed may help minimise exposure. Promethazine tends to be preferred as it is fully
funded. Note: antihistamines are largely ineffective for nasal congestion.

Second-line therapy
Oral second generation antihistamines eg. loratadine, desloratadine, cetirizine, fexofenadine
These are generally considered safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding. They are only second-line due to greater amount of data with
sedating agents. Use first-line is reasonable if sedative effects undesired. The safety data is most proven for loratadine.
Eye drops / intranasal sodium cromoglycate
Eyedrops may be useful in people with ocular symptoms not adequately treated by other means. Both the nasal spray and eye drops
need to be given 2-4 times daily, so compliance may be an issue. Also, prolonged use (greater than one week) may result in rebound
congestion on cessation, so intranasal corticosteroids tend to be preferred. These are considered safe for use in breastfeeding.
Lodoxamide is a mast cell stabiliser similar to sodium cromoglycate. However, data is lacking regarding the safety of use during pregnancy and
breastfeeding, so sodium cromoglycate is preferred.

Intranasal ipratropium
Since inhaled ipratropium for asthma is considered safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding, the same can be assumed for intranasal use.
Intranasal ipratropium may be of particular use where rhinorrhoea is the predominant complaint.
Eyedrops / intranasal sympathomimetic decongestants
eg. phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, oxymetazoline
These are not recommended for use in pregnancy (see below). Short-term use is unlikely to be problematic in breastfeeding. There is
a theoretical risk of stimulation / irritability in the infant.
Intranasal antihistamines eg. azelastine, levocabastine
Data are limited regarding the safety of the available products in pregnancy. While systemic absorption from topical use may be small,
alternative agents are generally preferred. There is a lack of specific safety data in breastfeeding, but transfer is unlikely to be clinically
significant and use would be reasonable. However these are considered second-line after intranasal corticosteroids.

Not recommended
Oral sympathomimetic decongestants (and sympathomimetic eyedrops / intranasal use in pregnancy)
eg. phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, oxymetazoline
These are of limited use in the treatment of allergic rhinitis and rebound congestion tends to occur. Oral sympathomimetics have been
associated with constriction of uterine blood vessels leading to foetal hypoxia. As safer alternatives are available, these agents are
best avoided in pregnancy. Topical preparations are preferred due to lower systemic absorption.
Contact the Drug Information Service (ext. 80900) for more information or assistance with treatment options.
The information contained within this bulletin is provided on the understanding that although it may be used to assist in your final clinical decision,
the Clinical Pharmacology Department at Christchurch Hospital does not accept any responsibility for such decisions.